Thursday, October 7, 2010

Reviewing Spectrum

Summer 2010
Vol. 38, Issue 3

This issue of Spectrum is designed to convert a primitive Adventist tribe that believes that the first eleven chapters of the Bible really happened just as described. And they want to make the existing Fundamental Belief #6 * say so in no uncertain terms. This attempt is complicated by the fact that these primitives venerate magical thinking and pray to a god that requires unthinking obedience and irrational devotion to the ideas of acolytes who regale them with amazing events and mythical monsters.

I doubt that this missionary effort will be successful, but one has to admire Spectrum’s brave attempt to win over the primitives using missionaries that employ reason, logic, and modern science. In addition THE BACKSTORY ON THE NEWLY-ELECTED PRESIDENTS: GC President Ted Wilson and NAD President Dan Jackson, makes it clear that a concerted attempt will be made to keep Spectrum’s missionaries out of areas claimed by the tribe.

In any event, Bonnie Dwyer begins Spectrum’s missionary effort by attempting to establish the grounds for a rational discussion. She asks, WHY REVISE BELIEF #6 in order to specify that the first eleven chapters of the Bible are literally true? The official tribal response employs a number of debatable assertions.

“Looking for official answers to the question of why this revision is necessary, I found the July issue of Reflections from the Biblical Research Institute helpful. Gerhard Pfandl summarizes the meetings and actions of the past decade in an article titled: ‘Creation Debate in the Seventh-day Adventist Church’. He writes, ‘Without the Creation week, the Sabbath becomes a Jewish institution; and if death existed long before the appearance of man, then there was no Fall in Eden and therefore really no need for salvation.’ This linchpin view of Sabbath or domino theory of how ideas fall is thus where we begin our five-year discussion of origins.”

RADICAL GRACE AND BIBLICAL REALISM by Missionary Scriven is an attempt to get members of the tribe to take a small step toward dialogue by suggesting that another understanding of the Genesis story is possible. Unfortunately Charles’ effort is doomed because he claims that “statements of faith are dangerous”, and his use of the word “idolatry” doesn’t refer to worshiping graven images.

“The Bible is the church’s single most important document, and that statements of faith are dangerous unless they are taken to be provisional and open to correction…If doctrine becomes a means of excluding people who are engaged in the practice of discipleship, that signals a distortion in understanding. It is a distortion that borders on idolatry and has nothing at all to do with the faithfulness that is God’s primary concern.”

The LETTER, a missionary missive by Lillian Moore, Ed.D. does more harm than good. She just blurts out offensive stuff like:

“Scientific discoveries are not subject to a democratic vote, administrative action or the stance of a particular institution. They are what they are…Newly discovered science, through the ages, has served to enlighten mankind.

“[Scientific] discoveries have not threatened our belief in the gospel nor have they negated the role of the Creator in the beginning of all things.”

She goes on to talk about integrating “new knowledge...while supporting the concept of a Divine Creation, admitting to the new vistas emerging from scientific inquiry”.

The title, YES, CREATION AFFIRMS A LITERAL READING OF GENESIS by Missionary Lawrence T. Geraty is going to be a disappointment to any member of the tribe who is daring enough to read this issue of Spectrum. The title should read, “The Series of Lectures on Creationism at the General Conference Session in Atlanta Affirms a Literal Reading of Genesis.”

Geraty’s missionary effort will fail, primarily because of his defense of liberal education and his obvious sympathy with the views of Sigfried Horn.

“The concerted attempt during the week to bolster a literalistic interpretation of Genesis 1 by setting in motion a process to change the biblical language in Fundamental Belief #6 to an extra-biblical literalistic interpretation of that language with the apparent motivation to rid the church of anyone with a different interpretation cast a pall on those thinkers in the church who are attempting to follow Ellen White’s counsel that both books of God’s revelation, Scripture and Nature, should shed light on each other. It left us wondering what has happened to the traditional denominational commitment to the concept of ‘present truth.’ Again, we are contra Ellen G. White who has told us there is still more to learn!

“Finally, what is the role of Adventist higher education? Among other goals, I thought it was to help our young people develop their critical faculties so they could stand on their own in any situation and not be merely the ‘reflectors of the thoughts of others.’ This requires helping students to look at all the evidence and current interpretations and paradigms, including their pros and cons, their strengths and weaknesses, so students can make up their own minds, guided by the Spirit in a context which is loyal to the church and its teachings. I’m sorry to say I didn’t hear anything like that during any of the meetings of the recent General Conference Session.

“I may be among those consigned to ‘wandering in the wilderness’ for a generation till God can raise up a generation following mine that will take His people into the Promised Land.”


“Writing in his diary on January 27, 1968, [Horn] says, ‘It will be interesting to see what will happen in the next 20 years. Will we find an honest way out of our dilemma and retain the respect of our young people, or will we become—more than we already are—a church of oldsters and simpletons?’ Later that year, commenting on a report of GC President Pierson in the Review (Oct 10, 1968) about a geo-science trip he [Pierson] had taken where he was again defending the importance and necessity of believing in a 6,000 year history of the earth, Horn wrote in his diary on October 13, 1968, ‘It is regrettable that a man like Pierson comes out with such a statement on a controversial point. It could easily be the beginning of a witch-hunt, as the pope’s decision on birth control is now in the Catholic Church. I would not be surprised if they would require us either to teach the 6,000-year age of the world in the future, or get out. It can happen under the administration of ill-trained and narrow-minded men, as we have a few in high places’”

THE MEANINGS OF THE BEGINNING by Missionary Sigve Tonstad is another ill-fated attempt to convert the primitives. His prose will leave them scratching their heads. Phrases like “explicitly prescriptive”, “argued tentatively”, and “concise scaffolding” will make it difficult if not impossible for them to comprehend his primary message. In addition, he quotes Biblical scholars who are known to use the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation!

“The first seventh day must be seen as an expression of God’s view and decision, irrespective of any human response. Skinner writes that the Sabbath ‘is not an institution which exists or ceases to exist with its observance by man; the divine rest is a fact as much as the divine work, and so the sanctity of the day is a fact whether man secures the benefit or not.’ (57) He can say this because the text we are exploring is descriptive of what God does, and not explicitly prescriptive as to what human beings ought to do. ‘The first Sabbath is cosmic, only hinting at what its significance will be to man,’ says Shimon Bakon. (58) The Genesis account of the seventh day is written in the indicative and there is no imperative attached to it. (59) Whether or not human beings will join God in God’s rest can only be anticipated and argued tentatively. Where the seventh day is conceived as a human obligation, it might show how important God is for human life and for the meaning of existence. When, on the other hand, the seventh day is left to speak from the concise scaffolding of its first mention in the text in Genesis, the seventh day tells of the importance of human beings to God, and its primary message is not human duty but divine commitment.”

57. John Skinner, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Genesis (ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T.
Clark, 1910), 35.
58. Shimon Bakon, “Creation, Tabernacle and Sabbath,” JBQ 25 (1997): 84.
59. Andreasen, Rest and Redemption, 75.

ADVENTISM’S HISTORIC WITNESS AGAINST CREEDS by Missionary Graybill is verifiable history, but that doesn’t mean that the primitive audience will be swayed by his rhetoric. According to the leaders of the tribe, their god demands conformity of belief as a condition for his Second Coming. Consequently, while Ron’s facts are accurate, they’re irrelevant.

“The historic Adventist witness against creeds was based on a tendency for the more specific doctrinal statement to seize interpretive control of the less specific. Thus when a creedal statement attempts to define a doctrine more precisely than inspiration does, the creed becomes the authorized interpreter of Scripture rather than Scripture standing alone as its own interpreter…Once a creed is enacted, any attempt to change it will unleash charges of laxness and heresy or foolishness and obscurantism…The enactment of a precise and detailed creed places a sharp tool in the hands of those in power. No matter how carefully some may handle such a tool, there are always those who will use it to coerce the conscience and impugn the motives and beliefs of their fellow church members. For all these reasons, churches should seek other ways of defending and preserving the landmarks of their faith.”

Missionary Warren H. Johns’ MODELS OF ORIGINS: CREATIONIST OPTIONS FOR AVENTISTS fails as an “entering wedge” because while 3 geological tests, 2 recency tests, and 10 major theories invalidate universal flood geology, it advocates testing fundamental beliefs by scientific investigation.

“The most obvious implication is that when the Church attaches statements relative to geology and earth history to its fundamental beliefs, then every time the progress of science revises its understanding of geology and earth history the fundamental beliefs may have to be revised accordingly. This already is beginning to happen with the discovery of 60,000 countable layers in the Greenland ice core being first reported four years after the 2004 statements were formulated. This puts our theology into the precarious position of being tested by science and being vulnerable to constant revisions. This is a superb example of what happens when we insert a Biblical chronology into our theology; it opens the door to future change, especially as dating methods become more refined and more accurate. The lesson to be learned is this: the theology that is the child of science in any century becomes an orphan in the following century. That is even true of the science of flood geology. On the other hand, a creation doctrine that avoids mentioning the universal Flood and the age of the earth will stand the test of time as long as it adheres closely to statements in Scripture.”

THE SIX “CREATION DAYS”: PROLOGUE TO GOD’S REST by Missionaries Brian Bull and Fritz Guy has no chance of influencing the primitives because it is unclear in what way a “worthwhile task” transforms an “ereb” into “boqer”.

“By failing to remember that the six creation days were a divine prologue to that first Sabbath we run the risk of missing the purpose for which we are granted the privilege of “working while it is day” (John 9:4). We are called to work six days a week to bring order out of chaos and, on the seventh to join the Creator in celebrating worthwhile tasks accomplished. And what, one may well ask, is a “worthwhile task”?...A worthwhile task takes a state of ’ereb and transforms it into a state of boqer. And the purpose of the seventh day is to allow us, in the presence of our Creator, to share in the joy of a worthwhile job well done.”

This concludes Spectrum’s missionary endeavor. After reviewing the missionaries’ attempts to convert the tribe, I am forced to conclude that their efforts were misguided and, in informal parlance, “dead on arrival”. Perhaps if Spectrum’s missionaries dig the tribe a well, offer to sponsor a medical clinic, and build a multipurpose building in one day, their missionary effort will have a better chance of success.

The book, AWAKEN: MEMOIRS: OF A CHINESE HISTORIAN by Gu Chang-Sheng is reviewed by Rebekah Liu, an ordained Adventist minister whose home is in Mainland China, and who has never renounced her love for the Chinese Communist Party. She is currently completing a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies at the SDA Theological Seminary at Andrews University.

Rebekah “found this book thought-provoking” and was “grateful for Gu’s honest opinion and description of the human side of the Adventist Church”. The book is an autobiographical account of his life as an Adventist before the Cultural Revolution in which he “renounces both Adventism and the Chinese Communist Party”. Gu is now an American citizen and was interviewed by Rebekah at his home in Massachusetts.

Todd Kline reviews Martin Doblmeier’s film, THE ADVENTISTS and considers “56 minutes…to be too brief to comprehensively detail such a truly fascinating and complex subject, one that deserves greater coverage. As an exploration of the medical journey Seventh-day Adventists have taken from their inception to the present, the film is quite successful, but viewed as an overview of the denomination’s history as a whole, it is less successful.”

In this poem, INTANGIBLES, T. S. Geraty describes the mysteries of science and meaning. These are the final lines.

In systems closed momentum stays
And energy is saved,
But how can quantum bosons move
When protons misbehaved?
In distances beyond our ken,
In light-years with the spheres
Who controls exactitude
Of days and months and years?

* Fundamental Belief #6, Creation
God is Creator of all things, and has revealed in Scripture the authentic account of His creative activity. In six days the Lord made "the heaven and the earth" and all living things upon the earth, and rested on the seventh day of that first week. Thus He established the Sabbath as a perpetual memorial of His completed creative work. The first man and woman were made in the image of God as the crowning work of Creation, given dominion over the world, and charged with responsibility to care for it. When the world was finished it was ``very good,'' declaring the glory of God. (Gen. 1; 2; Ex. 20:8-11; Ps. 19:1-6; 33:6, 9; 104; Heb. 11:3.)

VOTED: To approve a Protocol Statement on Additions or Revisions to the Statement of Fundamental Beliefs, which reads as follows:

In adding to and/or revising the Statement of Fundamental Beliefs it is imperative to involve the world church as much as possible in the process. Any suggestion should be based on a serious concern for the well-being of the world church and its message and mission, be biblically based, and informed by the writings of Ellen G White. Considering the importance and necessity of involving the world church in the process of additions and/or revisions to the Statement of Fundamental Beliefs, any suggestion for possible changes should reach the office of the President of the General Conference not later than two (2) years before a General Conference Session.

If the perceived need for additions and/or revisions to the Statement of Fundamental Beliefs is initiated by the world field, the matter should be carefully discussed at each administrative level. In the evaluation of the suggested change the governing body at each level shall establish an appropriate process for evaluation, seeking wide input. The process at each level shall result in the governing body either recommending the proposed change to the next level of administration, or abandoning any further consideration of it. In this way the recommendation for changes in the Statement of Fundamental Beliefs arrive at the General Conference. Once the suggestions reach the General Conference, or if the suggestions originated at the General Conference, it shall appoint an ad hoc committee to coordinate the process and facilitate the dialogue.

The following procedure shall be used by the General Conference in seeking the consensus of the world church in favor of or against the proposed change:

1. The General Conference will coordinate and facilitate the process of discussion through Presidential and the members of the ad hoc committee.
2. A preliminary draft approved by the Spring Meeting or Annual Council will be sent to the Divisions for reactions and comments. It should be discussed at the Union and Conference/Mission levels and printed in the local church papers.
3. Involve Theology/Religion Departments and Seminaries.
4. Discuss it at the Biblical Research Institute Committee and other pertinent committees.
5. Publish a draft in the Adventist Review, the Ministry, and place it on the Internet for comments and reactions from church members.
6. The GC ad hoc committee will receive all the suggestions from the world field and prepare the final draft to be submitted to the Annual Council for further discussion before it is placed on the agenda of the General Conference Session.
7. Only the General Conference in session can approve additions or revisions to the Statement of Fundamental Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

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